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Ads, Coming to a Bathroom Stall Near You

Article by Melinda Emerson, NYTimes, Ads, Coming to a Bathroom Stall Near You

Last fall, Bryan Silverman called a barbecue restaurant a mile from his campus at Duke University to ask the owner whether he would be interested in saving a little money on his facilities costs. The owner, Bill Whittington, was intrigued. Mr. Silverman offered The Blue Note Grill in Durham, N.C., free toilet paper printed with a Quick Response (QR) code ad for the restaurant, as well as ads for other local businesses, in exchange for stocking the toilet paper in the Blue Note’s bathrooms.

It has been nearly a year since Mr. Whittington started using the toilet paper ad to offer a buy-one-get-one-free dessert coupon. He says the marketing move has been good for his business in a couple of ways. “The toilet paper is a great gimmick for the restaurant,” he said. “On a busy night, we’ll see customers come out of the bathroom with a foot and a half of toilet paper, and everyone at the table will be looking at it.“ It creates a lot of conversation in the restaurant, too. “People ask if they can take some with them if they are traveling from out of town,” he added.

 

The concept was the brainchild of Mr. Silverman and his brother, Jordan, who founded Star Toilet Paper in 2011. Jordan Silverman got the idea while he was sitting in the bathroom reading his smartphone. “I was on an app and an ad popped up. Then I thought, ‘Advertising has pervaded so many parts of our lives, why not place ads in places where people actually want to read?’” He realized it was a perfect marriage and started working with his brother to bring the idea to market.

Jordan Silverman is a graduate of the University of Michigan and his brother will finish at Duke in 2015. The brothers have turned bathroom tissue into a new media platform. They print advertisements and QR code promotions that allow advertisers to offer content that can be downloaded on smartphones. Each roll has a series of eight ads that repeat. Advertisers pay just $5 per C.P.M., or cost per thousand views, to tap into a host of mobile advertising options. By utilizing QR codes and SMS text ads, companies that advertise with Star are able to use the toilet paper as an innovative jumping off point to further brand interaction.

The company has raised $140,000 from angel investors but has not generated much revenue yet. Jordan Silverman, who is the company’s only full-time employee, holds down the company’s Manhattan office while Bryan Silverman is busy finishing school and juggling the marketing and sales efforts. They have about 70 advertisers that include restaurants, insurance agents and pet stores. They use ad revenue to produce the branded toilet paper and give it away free.

“We supply the toilet paper to venues for free in exchange for demographic information so we can be sure advertisers are targeting who they want,” Bryan Silverman said.

And Mr. Whittington says his customers like the branded toilet paper. “We’ve never had any complaints,” he said. “Its seems to be a positive thing; it creates lots of chatter.”

The company concentrates on places like restaurants and theaters, saving those businesses significant dollars, though they declined to disclose the amount. But their goal is to eventually provide their toilet paper to a bigger audience in places like stadiums and university buildings.

Jordan Silverman said the business has multiple moving parts, including physical manufacturing, advertising design, data analysis and back-office support. They utilize mobile technology to track scans, S.M.S. opt-ins and coupon redemptions.

Mr. Whittington said his QR code ad will take customers to his Web site for a coupon, but most people just bring up the toilet paper coupon to the register. While he can’t quantify exactly how much money he has made since starting to use the branded toilet paper, Mr. Whittington says it has definitely increased dessert sales.

The Fish Doctors of Ann Arbor, Mich., an aquarium business run by Tom Campbell, was Star’s first advertiser two years ago. “We’ve been able to flush away our competition since we started using Star Toilet Paper,” said Mr. Campbell, unable to avoid a quip.

He has three stores that sell fish, aquariums and other equipment. The company puts ads on Star toilet paper to offer a coupon for two free goldfish. The ads are affordable, Mr. Campbell said. When asked how much business is driven by the campaign, Mr. Campbell explained his system of valuation: “We know what our average sale figure is so we multiply the number of coupons by our average sale per customer, and if the total exceeds the cost of the ad and the goldfish, we deem it a success.”

The Silverman brothers said their business is building traction slowly, but people are starting to catch on. They landed their first stadium customer, San Jose City College in California, just in time for football season.

What do you think? Would you use this product? Do you think the company will make it?

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